On Friday 20th October I attended a national workshop looking at the use and abuse of the student voice organised by the Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research at Sheffield Hallam University. One of the great things about workshops is to share ideas with others from outside your organisation. Setting up the workshops so that we discussed each scenario with a different group of people provided the opportunity to learn about practices at a far greater number of other institutions than is often the case at conferences. Dr Neil McKay welcomed us to the day and raised the point that the student voice has evolved from something we react to and moved much more towards student engagement. Probably my take home message of the day would be is that the student voice is not something that should just be listened to but should form part of a dialogue.
Although three different scenarios were discussed there were a number of common themes. One was the use of mid-semester module evaluations. These were often quick and dirty methods such as Stop-Start-Continue using post it notes. I have already decided to do this with my students after they have returned from study week. It gives us chance to respond to student feedback before the end of the module so the student’s voice has an impact on their own student journey.
One of the challenges of responding to the student voice is that the voice is not always consistent. Students have many different learning preferences, backgrounds and interests so they will not all be saying the same things. I have seen this first hand in the past where some students liked my handouts whereas others complained about them. In that instance we had a vote and went with the majority. This highlights the issue of managing expectations so that students understand what is happening during their time as a student. This might range from why we use different types of learning activities to when they can expect replies to emails.
Another thing that got me thinking was partly relating to developing a culture of listening and ensuring students use the formal channels for the student voice so their ideas can be acted upon. This only works if students trust the institution and the staff. An issue in many universities seemed to be students were worried about providing critical feedback in case it affected their mark. The second part of this is that something needs to happen in response to the student voice. This might just be a conversation with the students and further investigation or it might be a set of actions that are taken as an outcome. Irrespective of what happens it is important that we close the loop to keep students engaged with the process.
For more information about the event and the work of STEER at Sheffield Hallam see their blog.
This weeks #LTHEchat was all about visuals. To be precise the title was: What do you see? Using visual media to communicate our teaching and research. As some of you may know I like taking photos and I like to use those photos in my teaching and research. In my PhD I made all my own diagrams so they could look exactly as I wanted with all the same typeface and font size. Anyway this meant I went into the tweetchat feeling fairly confident I could contribute.
One of the first conversations that got me thinking was a discussion about images in the VLE. Are they really helping teaching or do they just make the page look pretty? I have added more and more images to my Moodle page. They are all relevant to the topic but do they really teach students anything? No, probably not but they do appear to hook the students, make them delve deeper into the page probably partly just by breaking up all the text! In this case does it matter if they are not teaching per se, if they are engaging students with learning?
The first day of the University of Essex’s Teaching and Learning Conference focused on inclusive practice. I found the case study presented by Dave Lomas and Paddy Turner from Sheffield Hallam University raised many important points and also some interesting questions. They attempted to make a level 5 module more inclusive by using initiatives like writing learning outcomes and other module material in plain English, allowing all students to have extra time in the exam, by allowing all students to record lectures, making sure resources were accessible with appropriate background colours and fonts and being more flexible around time keeping. Some great ideas many of which I am already using in practice and some new ideas for me to try out. With the new semester about to start it is a great time to be reflecting on whether my module guide is really in plain English and what new resources will I provide to ensure that the content I am delivering this semester will be truly accessible.
Not everybody in the audience seemed convinced about all the changes suggested. Some of the questions that were raised and I think need further investigation included: If you give all students extra time what do you do with those entitled to extra time? If you plan an assessment that should take an hour then give all student 1 hour and 15 minutes do those with specific learning difficulties need extra time on top of this? If you make all resources accessible in a range of formats and available before sessions is that not fairer to all students and prevents those with learning plans due to disabilities being made to feel different to the rest of their cohort? Lots of food for thought and for the modules I am responsible for I will continue to try and make them as inclusive as possible for all students irrespective of disability, background or personal circumstances.
The afternoon was looking at student engagement and was led by the SU. One of the nice things that was highlighted was the SU collaborating with the University to improve student learning. Having talked to the three SU reps I am taking a few ideas back to my own institution. My colleague Nieky is going to trial replacing the term ‘Office Hours’ with ‘Academic Support Hours’. And I also like the idea of a ‘Question of the Week’ with three possible answers that the students vote on using counters when they buy something in the shop. These questions can relate to academic matters as well as other aspects of university life. Another topic that came up is the advantage of paying student reps. The SU employs a ‘convener’ in each of the four faculties at the University. As I understood it these work as super reps but in addition are also paid to sit on working groups, committees and so on. I am not sure that paying students to do this sits well with me, I would much rather it be like when I was a student, where you engaged with these things because you felt had a stake in the university and its future. Times have changed though and maybe this is the now the way forward….